Source: North Manchester Journal, February 8, 1883
THE "OLD BEE HIVE"
A True Story of its Existence
INCIDENTS CONNECTED WITH ITS HISTORY
Everything has a history of its own, written or unwritten. There has never anything existed or lived, be it either great and famous or meek and unpretending, that has not a story of its existence. Although some histories are of more importance than others, it is never the less a fact that the history owes its degree of importance to the measure in which its subject has been connected with public thoughts and actions. One of the most fruitful sources of stories and legends are the old and ruined castles and palaces in the Old World. We have many old mile posts in the history of the town still standing. Two of them have been lately destroyed by fire, the American House and the "Bee-Hive." We gave a sketch of the former in our last weeks issue, and now it is of the latter that we would speak. Both of these buildings have quite a story connected with them. They were both old land marks in the history of the town. The story of the old rattletrap that burned Sunday morning is a varied one. The house was built thirty-three years ago last summer by M.C. Frame, father of Greely Frame, of this city. The original purpose of the house was for a store and hotel. In the day that it was built, it was thought to be a perfect mansion and structure of immense size. In fact it was a building of good size when it burned. It was built in a day when lumber was plenty and cheap, and many of the large timbers was made of black walnut. To do a thing like that at the present day would be considered a piece of unparalleled extravagance. It was used for many years as a business room and dwelling house, by Frame Bro's, general merchandise dealers, but for some reason other was never used a hotel. From Frame's the property passed through many hands, and was bandied about until the close of the war, when Wallace and Switzer got it and started a woolen goods factory in it. This part of the history of the old shell up to this time was rather an uneventful one as far as we can learn. The most stirring scenes were enacted after this date. The narrative we are not relating might be greatly enriched by many little anecdotes connected with its history, but unfortunately we are not the possessors of any of the mirth provoking incidents that happened about this time. The woolen mills were run in full blast for several years, and turned out large quantities of yarn and woolen goods. That quality of goods that so greatly characterized our late lamented Governor, James D. Williams, was no small product of these mills. We refer to that article which is "warranted not to rip, ravel or un down at the heel, all wool and a yard wide--blue jeans." The building which is now situated on the alley and is used by Whitlow & Horn as a wagon shop, was then a part of the factory. It was originally a stable, but was moved up to the west end of the old house and used as a storage house for the large quantity of wool taken in at the mills. Since then it has been moved to the position it now occupies. These were the palmiest days of the old shack, and it was then the scene of a bustling, grasping monopoly. Since then it had undergone a most wonderful change. In fact it was a sorrowful wreck, a mere shadow of its former life. Wallace & Switzer sold their machinery of their woolen factory to some parties who shortly afterward moved it to Silver Lake, where it has sunk into oblivion, and has in all probability been sold for old iron. J.M. Burdge, the present owner, then got hold of the real estate. This was the turning point in its history. The building that had enjoyed so grand a season in its early day, and had such bright promises for a useful and profitable old age began to sink into utter dilapidation. Since then it has been rapidly going to rack and ruin, and so well had the ravages of time done their work that nothing was left of the once fine house but a decayed and almost worthless shell. If the house had ever been painted, the summer's suns and winter's storms had completely divested it of any covering of this kind. Mr. Burdge when he became the possessor of it fitted it up for a tenement house. Such it was in the fullest and broadest sense of the term. It is said that as high as a dozen families put up their household goods and made their domicile in it at one time. Although this is getting it pretty thick we are not inclined to doubt the truth of the statement. From this it received the names "Bee-Hive" and "Catch-all", both very fit names. Since then it has been known almost exclusively by these names, although the former has been the most used. We are now at the point of the most stirring and eventful incidents of the old house. Some eight or nine years ago it was used as the abode of a man whose name we do not know, but was nicknamed "Racking Bill", on account of his peculiar walk, and his wife. They were people without much pretentions to character, and Bill's familiar walk will doubtless be remembered by many of our readers. About this time the house was the residence of the entire colored population of the city. There were about five families, and they had the whole house to themselves. But when taking into consideration the size of each family the house was very comfortably filled. While these tanned individuals held possession of it, as occasion demanded they invited in their brethren from neighboring places and proceeded to have a dance, to which a few "white trash" who were not above enjoying themselves with " 'spectable colored folks," were occasionally permitted to attend. On such occasions the second story was converted into a large and magnificent ball room, brilliantly lighted with the gleaming rays of a couple of tallow dips. These "dances" were a caution to the natives, and were carried on until the weariness of the dancers compelled them to seek rest in sleep, which was often at an early hour the next morning. It is said that the old house often resembled the haunted church of Kirk Alloway in Tom O'Shanter. As the silent hours of night drew on "the pipers loud and louder blew, the dancers quick and quick and quicker flew." One evening when a large company of them had gathered together to "chase the glowing hours with flying feet," the proceedings were suddenly brought to a close. A colored barber was among the large number of guests. He had been imbibing a little too much of rich red wine, which did not seem to smoothe down his unamiable disposition and when all was as merry as a marriage bell, this knight of the razor jumped on one of the colored gentlemen and carved him in several places with his little razor. He did not wait to see how bad his man was hurt, but took a hasty departure. The "ball" was closed for the night, to undergo repairs. Since the negroes moved out the house has only been occupied at short intervals few and far between. The last occupant of the "Bee-hive" was one Fisher and family, who lived in it last summer. Fisher was a bad customer, and when on his frequent drunks he made things lively where ever he was. Just how they managed to live in the old shack we cannot imagine, as it was almost unfit for any human being to stay in. Since he moved out the house has stood there unoccupied. It is also said that the notorious "Sandy" Rittenhouse, who is now languishing in the bastille at Michigan City, had his headquarters in it. We have heard it stated by reliable parties, that under cover of nights sable mantle he was seen on numerous occasions groping around the old shell with a dim light in his hand. It may have been the scene of many of his burglarious plots and plans. The dilapidated, dreary old shell rivaled any of the ghost haunted ruins so common met with in stories. The history of the "Bee-Hive" within the last twelve years has been dark and squalid. Of late years it has been considered kind of common property in a sense. There was nothing to close it up from the public, the windows and doors having long since went out of business, and nothing remained but a leaky roof and the shaky walls. It had long been considered a flagrant nuisance and the citizens of that neighborhood consider its destruction as quite a Godsend. On the night after the American House burned it was fired by an incendiary, but was discovered and put out before the fire had burned long. Its destruction last Saturday night was probably the work of the same hands that tried it before. The building was but a small loss, as it could only be estimated at what the timbers would bring for wood. After the first and unsuccessful attempt was made to burn it, many of our citizens requested Mr. Burdge to remove it, which he kindly consented to do. He had commenced the work of tearing it down and had the weather been fit, it probably would have been demolished before this time. Now that this old land mark has been destroyed, we have but few remaining in the city.